Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rashid Khalidi's new book BROKERS OF DECEIT: short, power-packed and insightful

Weighing in at 167 pages, including the index, War and Peace it is not. But Khalidi's just released book packs a punch that is both edifying and bracing, and besides covering the announced topic of the book very well; Khalidi, virtually as an aside, delivers a shattering blow to the argument that through lobbies like AIPAC, JDL, etc. Israel has hijacked US foreign policy in the Mideast and is in the drivers seat. I'll get to that part later.
The sub-title of the book is: "how the US has undermined peace in the middle east," and its narrow focus makes it all the more penetrating. In the introduction Khalidi states his purpose, "This book is concerned, primarily, however not with the misuse of language, important though that is, but with an American-brokered political process that for more than thirty-five years has reinforced the subjugation of the Palestinian people, provided Israel and the United States with a variety of advantages, and made considerably more unlikely the the prospects of a just and lasting settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Arabs."

Khalidi illustrates his argument with chapters on three key events: chapter 1 is "The First Moment: Begin and Palestinian Autonomy in 1982; chapter 2, "The Second Moment: The Madrid-Washington Negotiations, 1991-3" and chapter 3 the Third Moment "Barak Obama and Palestine, 2009-12."

Needless to say (for those with some familiarity with these events)everything involves Israeli demands, Palestinian objections and US support for any and every Israeli position, followed by Palestinian defeat. Kalidi's narrative of how this was done and the gross use of Orwellian "new speak" by the US and Israel is fascinating and often illuminating in unexpected ways. For example, when Begin spoke of Palestinians being allowed to have "autonomy" he also excluded them from having any territory of their own. What was trumpeted publicly as a great concession was in fact double-talk and meaningless; from the start Israel never intended for there to be a Palestinian state, ever.

Adding to his insights, Khalidi himself was a participant in some of these events as an adviser to the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid conference. This is an important book that has the potential to reach a lot of people. It is a work of scholarship, but very readable and never dry.

Now to the part about what is the US fundamental interest in the Mideast and what role the Israel lobby plays. In the introduction Khalidi states what he thinks should have been seen as obvious (it escaped my notice, I have to admit). The key strategic relationship the US has in the Middle east is not Israel, it is Saudi Arabia. Having access and control of Saudi oil (and that of the surrounding Gulf Kingdoms of Dubai, Kuwait et al)is vital for the US and its world position. It is a relationship that began in 1933 and it is a relationship that is deep (read House of Saud, House of Bush, for instance). Fortunately for the Zionist rulers of Israel, the Saudis don't care about the Palestinians enough to threaten to rupture or modify their political and economic relations with the US. When US-Saudi interests conflicted with what Israel wanted, Israel lost. Try though they did, the Israelis didn't stop sales of US f-15 fighter jets to Saudi Arabia during the Carter years and they didn't stop Regan's sales of AWACS system aircraft to the Saudis. When both of these sales came before Congress it was the petrochemical lobby that beat the Israel lobby.

Other instances of the US slapping down Israel when if felt its most vial interests were at stake are the Israeli military's withdrawal from Sinai in 1975 and the later signing of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, which the US had to shove down Israel's throat. The treaty, a victory of the US over the Soviets, making Egypt a client state of the US, was too important to allow the Israelis to scuttle it.

Since there is no pressure from the oil producing states on the US over Palestine and there is no domestic counter to AIPAC & co. letting Israel do what it does has not had any dire consequences for any US administration. To go against the Israel lobby can be costly election time, and no Democrat or Republican cares about the Palestinians to push the issue.

So Saudi oil is the bedrock of US policy. Insofar as it doesn't conflict with the Saudi-US relationship, any US administration isn't going to antagonize Israel's domestic partisans and lap dogs.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Obama’s rush to judgment: Was the Boston bombing really a “terrorist” act?

Blogs » Ali Abunimah's blog

Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Sat, 04/20/2013 - 16:17

President Obama has repeatedly claimed that the Boston Marathon bombing was an “act of terror” and that its alleged perpetrators are “terrorists.”

It may seem pointless to quibble with this description: after all what could be more “terroristic” than setting off bombs at a peaceful sporting event killing three persons, one a child, and injuring or horrifically maiming dozens more?

But in fact how the act is described is very important in determining government, media and wider societal responses, including ramping up racism and bigotry against Muslims, Arabs or people of color.

There can be no doubt that the Boston Marathon bombing was a murderous act, but does it –– based on what is known –– fit the US government’s own definitions of “terrorism”?

It is important to recall that other, far more lethal recent events, including the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado and the school massacre at Sandy Hook, Connecticut have not been termed “terrorism,” nor their perpetrators labeled “terrorist” by the government. Why?
Obama’s changing descriptions

In his first statement shortly after news emerged of the bombing in Boston on 15 April 2013, Obama pointedly did not describe the attack as “terrorism.” The term is totally absent from his statement. He does say, “We still do not know who did this or why. And people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts.”

It was only the next day on Tuesday, 16 April, that Obama first called the bombing an “act of terrorism” after media had pressed the White House on the issue.

Last night, after 19-year-old suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured by police, Obama made a statement declaring: “We will investigate any associations that these terrorists may have had. And we’ll continue to do whatever we have to do to keep our people safe.”

In his weekly video address today, Obama reaffirmed, “on Monday an act of terror wounded dozens and killed three people at the Boston Marathon.”
Official definitions of “terrorism”

The US government has no single definition of “terrorism” but the National Institute of Justice at the US Department of Justice points to two influential standards that are in use, one enshrined in law and the other provided by the FBI:

Title 22 of the U.S. Code, Section 2656f(d) defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

Both definitions of terrorism share a common theme: the use of force intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal. In most cases, NIJ researchers adopt the FBI definition, which stresses methods over motivations and is generally accepted by law enforcement communities.

What was the “political” or “social” goal of the Boston bombing?

Based on these definitions, what distinguishes a “mass shooting” such as Aurora or Sandy Hook on the one hand, from an act of “terrorism” on the other, is that the mass shooters have no political goals. Their act is nihilistic and is not carried out in furtherance of any particular cause.

So far, however, absolutely no evidence has emerged that the Boston bombing suspects acted “in furtherance of political or social objectives” or that their alleged act was “intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal.”

Nor is there any evidence that they are part of a group.

Neither of the suspects is known to have made any statement of a political or other goal for their alleged action and there has been no claim of responsibility. Obama, in his statement last night, admitted as much:

Obviously, tonight there are still many unanswered questions. Among them, why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence? How did they plan and carry out these attacks, and did they receive any help?

So why is Obama calling them “terrorists?

Since Obama has no idea why the alleged suspects may have resorted to violence and no one else has offered an evidence-based explanation, why is Obama already labeling them “terrorists” when he himself warned against a “rush to judgment?”

The only explanation I can think of is the suspects’ identification as ethnic Chechens and Muslims, even though there is no evidence that they acted either in relation to events in their ancestral homeland or were motivated by any Islamist ideology.

Obama seems to be going on the careless, prejudiced assumption so common on cable television: they’re Muslims, so they must be “terrorists.”

This may be the easy and populist way of looking at it, pandering to prejudice as Obama so often does, but it is irresponsible and violates official US policy that Obama seemed, at least on the first day, willing to observe.

How acts are labeled is highly political: recall the controversy over whether Obama was quick enough to label the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last September as “terrorism,” and the continuing demands that the government designate the November 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, allegedly perpetrated by Major Nidal Hasan, as “terrorism.”

All of these cases reinforce the widely noted observation that acts of violence, especially mass shootings, carried out typically by white males are immediately labeled as the acts of “disturbed individuals” while the acts of a person identified as “Muslim” are to be labeled “terrorism” regardless of the facts.

These are unsafe assumptions and foreclose the possibility of full understanding. Moreover, by reinforcing popular stereotypes, they give new force to the anti-Muslim backlash that seems only to be growing stronger and more poisonous as the 11 September 2001 attacks recede into the past.

It is also important to note the contrast between Obama’s eagerness to label the Boston attack as “terror” and its alleged perpetrators as “terrorists” – without evidence – and his reluctance to label last August’s mass murder at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin as “terrorism” despite the identification of the shooter as having a history of white nationalist and supremacist activism.

Perhaps the first serious consequence of labeling Boston a “terrorist” attack was the Obama administration’s decision to deprive the suspect who was captured of his constitutional right to receive a Miranda warning on arrest, a further thinning of the already threadbare pretense of “rule of law” in post 11 September 2001 America.
Could this be another “Columbine?”

Let’s consider another possibility. Exactly 14 years ago today, 20 April 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold executed a carefully-planned attack on Columbine High School in Colorado, using guns and bombs.

The two seniors murdered 12 fellow students and one teacher before shooting themselves.

Like the Boston Marathon bombing allegedly was, the Columbine attack was carried out by two persons, and it involved some of the same methods: homemade explosives.

But the Columbine attack is remembered as a “school shooting” or a “mass shooting” – perhaps the most iconic of a sad litany of such events – but not a “terrorist” attack.

In his essential 2009 book Columbine, Dave Cullen tells the story of the attack in meticulous detail, debunking many of the popular stereotypes that persist to this day that the attack was meant to avenge bullying by “jocks.”

The evidence that emerged is that Harris was a clinically sadistic sociopath who had no ability to empathize with other human beings. Klebold was a depressive whom Harris was able to manipulate. These facts lay at the heart of what happened.

It is definitely not any more desirable in the wake of such atrocities to have a media frenzy stigmatizing all people with mental illness as potential killers any more than we want them to stigmatize all Muslims as potential terrorists – in fact people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than anyone else, and are indeed more likely to be victims of violence. And contrary to popular stereotypes fed by the media it is exceptionally rare for Muslims to become “terrorists.”

What we do need is patient, serious and informed analysis: could the relationship between the Boston suspects be similar to those of the Columbine killers? What other factors are at at play? I don’t know, but I cannot rule anything out.

Just like President Obama, I do not know what drove the alleged Boston bombers. What I do know is that when the media and the government, egging each other on, rush to judgment, the possibility of alternative scenarios is ruled out and getting to the truth is harder.

If Boston was “terrorism” based on the little that is known, then we must be able to answer these questions: can only white or Christian males be sociopaths, or suffer from other mental illnesses that under certain conditions lead to violence?

Can only two white Colorado high school students act as a pair without “terrorist” motives? Can “Muslims” or ethnic Chechens, or Arabs never be subject to the same kind of conditions or analysis?

Surely the survivors and families of the Boston bombing deserve no less of an accounting of what happened than the victims of Columbine?

We cannot and should not rule out that evidence will emerge that the alleged Boston bombers had a political motive. But it hasn’t so far.

What we have seen is the usual rush to judgment that has left Muslims and many people of color once again fearing collective blame and the governmental and societal retribution that comes with it.
Update, 21 April: Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz on Boston Marathon bomb and “terrorism” definition

A few hours after I published this post on 20 April, I heard Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz on the 20:05 GMT edition of the BBC World Service Newshour making some of the exact same points I made in this post, a jarring experience since I usually strongly disagree with his advocacy on Israel.

Dershowitz was responding to members of Congress who called for the government to treat surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an “enemy combatant” and to deprive him of his constitutional rights. Already, the Obama administration has deprived Tsarnaev of his Miranda rights. I have transcribed Dershowitz’s key comments:

Dershowitz: Well if they [the members of Congress] were in my class they would flunk out of law school … It shows a complete and total ignorance of the United States constitution. This is an American citizen being charged with committing a crime on American soil against Americans.

It’s not even clear under the federal terrorism statute that this qualifies as an act of terrorism. In order to prove it’s an act of terrorism they have to prove that they had certain kinds of intentions and motivations. But it’s a perfect trial to try in the civilian courts. There’s no plausible argument that would take this case out of the civilian courts and would put it into any kind of a military tribunal.

BBC: They’ve referred to the US Supreme Court decision Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld which said that there is no bar to the US holding one of its citizens as an enemy combatant. That part they say is certainly established in law.

Dershowitz: Well yeah, an enemy combatant but who’s the enemy here? These are two young men, we have no idea what their motivation was, particularly the young man who was captured alive. As far as we know he has never been in direct contact with anybody from any foreign country. They’re just making it up. And they’re allowing their perception of bias to influence the facts of the case. This case, this will be tried in a civilian court in front of a jury…

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Jewish is a Nationality, not a religion?

Recently I watched "The Cafe" a program on AlJezeera TV, that features a moderator sitting at a cafe table with various guests who hold forth on topics of the day. The episode I saw was" The Cafe in Tel Aviv." The guests included Palestinian MK (Member of the Knesset), Haneen Zoabi, Schlomo Sands, the Israeli historian who wrote "The Invention of the Jewish People," and most recently, "The Invention of the Jewish Homeland," and three others whose names I didn't catch. They were the mayor of an Israeli town, a West Bank settler and a young person who participated in the now forgettable occupy Wall Street-style action against the high cost of living (for Israeli Jews)in Tel Aviv.

Whatever the case, they were going at it hammer and tongs not agreeing on much of anything with Zoabi and Sands loosely on one side criticizing Israel, while the others supported what Israel was doing vis a vis settlements, occupation and differences in treatment of Jews and "the Arabs," claiming it was all just and fair.

At one point the settler attacked Sands bitterly for the sin of having the nerve to claim that Judaism is merely a religion and not a nationality. The Jewish State was, the settler maintained, the nation of the Jews, intended for Jews only.

In the give and take of five people all trying to make their points at once and the attempt of the moderator to keep some kind of orderly discussion, this point wasn't addressed. This is understandable you can't cover everything in a one hour show and I thought Zoabi and Sands did well in articulating their point of view.

But it got me thinking (this occasionally happens)...being Jewish is a nationality, not a religion? does that play out in real life?

I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana to Jewish parents. Their parents were Jewish...and so on over how many generations I don't know, but a lot. I was properly circumcised, went to religions school on Sundays, then Hebrew school, was Bar Mitzvaed, confirmed, went to Friday night services at our Conservative Temple (the middle of the road one: not too orthodox or too reformed)-- the works!

I didn't realize that all that time I was practicing my nationality. I could have sworn that I was an America citizen! Like most children who went to public school and were exposed to popular media I was very patriotic: I drew pictures of US Saber Jets shooting down Russian Migs in Korea, saluted the flag and, to my parents irritation, marched around the house holding up a picture of Eisenhower from the cover of the Saturday Evening Post during election night of 1952 (I was 8 and my parents were for Adali Stevenson). After all, he was a war hero and children like me loved playing war.

I would have been very upset if someone told me that my nationality was really Jewish,not American. I didn't know much about Israel, or was it Palestine? I knew enough that I wasn't supposed to steal coins from those little blue and white cans at the Jewish Community Center and the Temple.

to me being Jewish was getting exempt from going to the Christmas and Easter assemblies at grade school, eating blintzes and borscht and generally being sort of different. Israel, I had barely heard of the place and it was supposed to be my country. No, I was all-American and a loyal Hoosier too. I didn't know then, as I now do, that the people who were actually born there were not considered part of that country.

So, Jews born in the USA or Europe or where ever, whose native language is English, French, Polish. etc. not Hebrew (a previously ritualistic dead language that had been revived by the modern Zionist movement...Aramaic was the commonly spoken language of the region for many centuries...remember Mel Gibson's movie?...) are citizens of Israel. But they not only are members of the Jewish nation where ever they are born, they also get to have their nation as a religion and worship it too...a bonus!

We aren't just talking about people who are extremely nationalistic...worshiping the flag and singing the Star Spangled Banner in the Temple. By virtue of our Jewish nationality we get a package deal, nation and Yahweh and Purim et al and have to say all those prayers...zzzzzzzz.

If the USA is a Christian nation, do all Christians around the world get the right of return and become automatic citizens upon arrival? No way! Is Swedish a religion? What about Ecuador? Is there a god of the Ecuadorian nation to worship? Well, Sweden is a nation, you can say, so anybody who is born in Minnesota named Johannson is actually a Swedish citizen, and they can worship at IKEA (watch out for the meatballs).

How about Israeli-born Jews who decide to become Buddists? Do they lose their nationality/religion?

It's possible to go on in a reducto ad absurdum vein, but some final thoughts.

How did members of a single small nation in the ancient Middle East end up with its nationals being born all over the world, not speaking their putative native language, and having a largely European cultural and genetic heritage for about the last 1000 years?

Read Israeli historian Schlomo Sand's book, "The Invention of the Jewish People," it addresses a real history which shows that ancient Judaism was a proselytizing religion and that Jews emigrated (from 300 BC onward, long before any supposed "diaspora," or national expulsion) and intermarried with other peoples throughout Europe, and their consistent thread of existence has been as a religious culture that adapted the language and many of the mores of various nations (the once widely-spoken Yiddish is a dialect of German).

Final question:

What kind of a country defines itself as a place that is exclusively for only one kind of people? That is not a definition of a real nation. It's an ingrown tribe. And it's a tribe with nuclear weapons, unconditional backing from the US government and it has no regard for the rights of anyone but its own members.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

What kind of "Human Rights" does PEN claim to support?

Ear to the Ground
Chris Hedges Resigns From Human Rights Organization PEN
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Posted on Apr 1, 2013
The Nation Institute and the State Department

Chris Hedges and Suzanne Nossel.

The Truthdig columnist was scheduled to speak at events sponsored by PEN American Center next month, but he has resigned his membership in the writers’ organization over its executive director, Suzanne Nossel, a former aide to Hillary Clinton who may have coined the term “soft power.”

The following is from a 2004 Foreign Affairs article by Nossel titled “Smart Power: Reclaiming Liberal Internationalism”:

To advance from a nuanced dissent to a compelling vision, progressive policymakers should turn to the great mainstay of twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy: liberal internationalism, which posits that a global system of stable liberal democracies would be less prone to war. Washington, the theory goes, should thus offer assertive leadership—diplomatic, economic, and not least, military—to advance a broad array of goals: self-determination, human rights, free trade, the rule of law, economic development, and the quarantine and elimination of dictators and weapons of mass destruction (WMD)

In addition to working for the State Department under Hillary Clinton as deputy assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, Nossel has worked as executive director of Amnesty International USA, and for Human Rights Watch and The Wall Street Journal.

Chris Hedges emailed the following statement to PEN and it is reprinted here with his permission:

I will not be participating as a speaker in the PEN World Voices Festival in May. I will not participate because of your decision to select Suzanne Nossel as Executive Director of the PEN American Center. This appointment makes a mockery of PEN as a human rights organization and belittles the values PEN purports to defend. I spent seven years in the Middle East, most of them as the Middle East Bureau Chief of The New York Times. The suffering of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation and the plight of those caught up in our imperial wars in countries such as Iraq are not abstractions to me. Nossel’s relentless championing of preemptive war—which under international law is illegal—as a State Department official along with her callous disregard for Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians and her refusal as a government official to denounce the use of torture and use of extra-judicial killings, makes her utterly unfit to lead any human rights organization, especially one that has global concerns. PEN American Center, by appointing Nossel, has unwittingly highlighted its own failure to defend and speak out for our dissidents, especially Bradley Manning. I hereby resign from PEN. I will wait until the organization returns to its original mandate to defend those who are persecuted, including those within the United States, before returning to the organization.


Chris Hedges

More about PEN: It is a global organization made up of writer members that advocates for free expression and other human rights causes. The chapter representing the eastern United States is called PEN American Center and was founded in 1922. Its membership has included Robert Frost, Tony Kushner, Langston Hughes, Thomas Mann, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Salman Rushdie and John Steinbeck.

Read more about the controversy at Dissident Voice.

—Posted by Peter Z. Scheer. Follow him on Twitter: @peesch.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Treason of the Intellectuals

Chris Hedges' Columns

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Posted on Mar 31, 2013

By Chris Hedges

The rewriting of history by the power elite was painfully evident as the nation marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. Some claimed they had opposed the war when they had not. Others among “Bush’s useful idiots” argued that they had merely acted in good faith on the information available; if they had known then what they know now, they assured us, they would have acted differently. This, of course, is false. The war boosters, especially the “liberal hawks”—who included Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Al Franken and John Kerry, along with academics, writers and journalists such as Bill Keller, Michael Ignatieff, Nicholas Kristof, David Remnick, Fareed Zakaria, Michael Walzer, Paul Berman, Thomas Friedman, George Packer, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Kanan Makiya and the late Christopher Hitchens—did what they always have done: engage in acts of self-preservation. To oppose the war would have been a career killer. And they knew it.

These apologists, however, acted not only as cheerleaders for war; in most cases they ridiculed and attempted to discredit anyone who questioned the call to invade Iraq. Kristof, in The New York Times, attacked the filmmaker Michael Moore as a conspiracy theorist and wrote that anti-war voices were only polarizing what he termed “the political cesspool.” Hitchens said that those who opposed the attack on Iraq “do not think that Saddam Hussein is a bad guy at all.” He called the typical anti-war protester a “blithering ex-flower child or ranting neo-Stalinist.” The halfhearted mea culpas by many of these courtiers a decade later always fail to mention the most pernicious and fundamental role they played in the buildup to the war—shutting down public debate. Those of us who spoke out against the war, faced with the onslaught of right-wing “patriots” and their liberal apologists, became pariahs. In my case it did not matter that I was an Arabic speaker. It did not matter that I had spent seven years in the Middle East, including months in Iraq, as a foreign correspondent. It did not matter that I knew the instrument of war. The critique that I and other opponents of war delivered, no matter how well grounded in fact and experience, turned us into objects of scorn by a liberal elite that cravenly wanted to demonstrate its own “patriotism” and “realism” about national security. The liberal class fueled a rabid, irrational hatred of all war critics. Many of us received death threats and lost our jobs, for me one at The New York Times. These liberal warmongers, 10 years later, remain both clueless about their moral bankruptcy and cloyingly sanctimonious. They have the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on their hands.

The power elite, especially the liberal elite, has always been willing to sacrifice integrity and truth for power, personal advancement, foundation grants, awards, tenured professorships, columns, book contracts, television appearances, generous lecture fees and social status. They know what they need to say. They know which ideology they have to serve. They know what lies must be told—the biggest being that they take moral stances on issues that aren’t safe and anodyne. They have been at this game a long time. And they will, should their careers require it, happily sell us out again.

Leslie Gelb, in the magazine Foreign Affairs, spelled it out after the invasion of Iraq.

“My initial support for the war was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies within the foreign policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility,” he wrote. “We ‘experts’ have a lot to fix about ourselves, even as we ‘perfect’ the media. We must redouble our commitment to independent thought, and embrace, rather than cast aside, opinions and facts that blow the common—often wrong—wisdom apart. Our democracy requires nothing less.”

The moral cowardice of the power elite is especially evident when it comes to the plight of the Palestinians. The liberal class, in fact, is used to marginalize and discredit those, such as Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, who have the honesty, integrity and courage to denounce Israeli war crimes. And the liberal class is compensated for its dirty role in squelching debate.

“Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position, which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take,” wrote the late Edward Said. “You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship.”

“For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence,” Said went on. “If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits. Personally I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual.”

Julien Benda argued in his 1927 book “The Treason of Intellectuals”—“La Trahison des Clercs”—that it is only when we are not in pursuit of practical aims or material advantages that we can serve as a conscience and a corrective. Those who transfer their allegiance to the practical aims of power and material advantage emasculate themselves intellectually and morally. Benda wrote that intellectuals were once supposed to be indifferent to popular passions. They “set an example of attachment to the purely disinterested activity of the mind and created a belief in the supreme value of this form of existence.” They looked “as moralists upon the conflict of human egotisms.” They “preached, in the name of humanity or justice, the adoption of an abstract principle superior to and directly opposed to these passions.” These intellectuals were not, Benda conceded, very often able to prevent the powerful from “filling all history with the noise of their hatred and their slaughters.” But they did, at least, “prevent the laymen from setting up their actions as a religion, they did prevent them from thinking themselves great men as they carried out these activities.” In short, Benda asserted, “humanity did evil for two thousand years, but honored good. This contradiction was an honor to the human species, and formed the rift whereby civilization slipped into the world.” But once the intellectuals began to “play the game of political passions,” those who had “acted as a check on the realism of the people began to act as its stimulators.” And this is why Michael Moore is correct when he blames The New York Times and the liberal establishment, even more than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, for the Iraq War.

“The desire to tell the truth,” wrote Paul Baran, the brilliant Marxist economist and author of “The Political Economy of Growth,” is “only one condition for being an intellectual. The other is courage, readiness to carry on rational inquiry to wherever it may lead … to withstand … comfortable and lucrative conformity.”

Those who doggedly challenge the orthodoxy of belief, who question the reigning political passions, who refuse to sacrifice their integrity to serve the cult of power, are pushed to the margins. They are denounced by the very people who, years later, will often claim these moral battles as their own. It is only the outcasts and the rebels who keep truth and intellectual inquiry alive. They alone name the crimes of the state. They alone give a voice to the victims of oppression. They alone ask the difficult questions. Most important, they expose the powerful, along with their liberal apologists, for what they are.